It is Finished

A sermon for Good Friday; Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22:1-11, Hebrews 10:16-25, John 18:1-19:42

 

It is finished: three years of ministry, teaching, healing, and signs of power.

It is finished, three years of increasingly tense encounters with Jewish authorities.

It is finished: arrest in the dark of night the all-night trials before Annas and Pilate,
and Peter’s denials.

It is finished: the mocking abuse of soldiers and police, the Jews desire for the release of Barabbas Bar – Abbas son of ~ father.

It is finished, the Jews’ proclamation they have no king but the emperor.

It is finished ~ crucifixion.

It is finished.

 

It is finished Jesus, the intenerate rabbi from Nazareth is dead. Two marginal, mostly secrete followers, remove the body, prepare it with myrrh and aloes, wrap it in a linen cloth, and place it in a tomb.

 

It is finished.

There is nothing left to do, the messianic hope is gone, the promise of restoring the House of David is vanquished, the potential of glory is lost, the ring of Hosanna has dissipated.

It is finished.

There is nothing left to do. The hopeless stand at the edge of the abyss, they ponder ~ what’s next; all their bearings are gone; they’ve no clue how to orient themselves.

 

It was a grand idea, a half a decade in the making, thousands of hours, other opportunities shunned, and suddenly, unexpectedly the realization that it is finished! Standing at the edge of the abyss, with no idea what is next, lost, unable to find any bearings. It is finished. There is nothing left to do. The edge of the abyss is terrifyingly real. ‘Nothing’ is an all-consuming experience.

Some of you have similar experiences; unexpected death, unanticipated diagnosis of severe illness, job loss, financial collapse, the failure of a long-perused dream or ideal. You know the feeling; it is finished! there is nothing left to do! Tonight, we recall the moment when all creation knew it is finished! there was nothing left! Tonight, we recall the moment the cosmos teetered at the edge of the abyss, of nothing. We bring our collection of it is finished experiences with us. Through them, we connect with this moment, with each other with all humanity, with all creation.

All of us want to move on. There is the urge to swap stories of how we moved on; or not. There is the desire to tell each other “It will be alright.” never knowing, never saying what ‘alright’ is. None of us – none of us is eager just to be just to exist at the edge of the abyss, when everything is done, when there is nothing left.

But; here we are. And it is exactly where we should be. Standing at the cross-shaped abyss, that like some divine black hole is stripping us, sucking away all pretense of glory, power, wealth, position, privilege, success, accomplishment, knowledge, wisdom, wit, piety, and, righteousness, eradicating all pretense ~ until

It is finished.

There is nothing left.

Nothing, except ourselves, our souls, and bodies; dust and breath, just as God created us.

 

My hunch is ~ we should stay here awhile.

My hope is ~ we will.

My prayer is ~ we can.

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Tonight is different

 

A Sermon for Maundy Thursday; Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14, Psalm 116:1, 10-171, Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31b-35, Mark 14:22-25, Matthew 26:26-30 Luke 22:14-23

 

Tonight, is different.

Tonight, is a Passover remembrance.

Not quite 3500 years ago the Jews in Egypt slaughtered sheep, smeared the blood on their door posts and lintels, so when the Lord strikes Egypt, each Jewish home will be passed over. The night is marked as a perpetual remembrance as the first month of the year.
For all generations, since then this night has been a festival to the Lord.

Tonight, is a night to remember.

Tonight, is different.

Jesus has been anointed by Mary.
The Jewish authorities are plotting to kill Lazarus,
whom Jesus raised from the dead.
Jesus has made a spectacular entry into Jerusalem; all Judea is following him.
Some Greeks sough Jesus out. The authorities are right,
the whole world is following Jesus (John 12:19).

Tonight, is different.

The world is different.
Judea is different.
Jerusalem is different.
Is it possible this is what it felt like in Goshen in Egypt all those years ago?
Who knows.
Maybe it does.
Maybe it doesn’t.
What matter is that tonight is different.

Tonight, is a night to remember.

Tonight, is different.
It is the remembrance of the remembrance,
even if the traditions are no longer in synch.
Tonight

he took bread, …  gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood (Luke 22:19-20).

            Tonight, we do this in remembrance.
But more than this, because tonight is different.
Tonight, Jesus becomes the servants to servants.
Tonight, Jesus washes servants’ feet.
Tonight, he washes their feet, that they may wash each other’s feet,
that in perpetual remembrance all generations to follow
will wash each other’s feet.

Tonight, is different,
the remembrance of washing each other’s feet awakens the remembrance
that we are known as followers;
as people of The Way,
because we love each other;
we love each other enough
to wash each other’s feet.

Tonight, is a night to remember.

Tonight, is different.

There are no lambs to slaughter.
There are no door posts nor lintels to smear with blood.
Oh, there is slaughter enough,
enough blood will be smeared from wars and insurrections,
from school hall ways, to street corner disputes,
from abusive homes, to rage at those who are different.
And death will take its toll,
fathers and mothers,
sons and daughters,
friends and lovers,
confidants and amigos
have and will die.

Tonight, is a night to remember.

Tonight, is different.

Tonight, we share blessed and broken bread.
Tonight, we share the blessing poured out in the new covenant.
Tonight, one way or another, we humbly submit to being washed,
accepting the most divine love given us that we may share it with all the world.
Tonight, is different.
Tonight, is a perpetual remembrance that eternal life
is incarnate,
is sacrificed,
is resurrected,
is ascended,
is right here, right now and will be, as it has been, eternally present.

Tonight, is a night to remember.

Tonight, is different.
The world is the same
Judea is the same.
Jerusalem is the same.
The United States is the same.
Washington is the same.
Arkansas is the same.
Little Rock is the same.
Mississippi County is the same.
Blytheville is the same.
But tonight,
is a night of remembrance, of washed feet, broken bodies, and blood shed,
forming the covenant of universal eternal divine love.
And therein is the hope that tomorrow and all that follows will be different.

Tonight, is a night to remember,
that tomorrow
can be
will be
different.

 

 

An Uncertain Pilgrimage

A Sermon for Palm Sunday:
            The Palms: Mark 11:1-11, Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
            The Word: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Mark 11:15-19                        The Passion: Mark 15:1-39, [40-47]

 We don’t often get to hear the two stories together. They are part of the same story within Mark’s Gospel story of Jesus’ unexpected journey to Golgotha. It just might raise awareness of the unexpected journey that you that we are on. It is a story fraught with mystery (Hoezee). It invites you to confess what is disturbingly mysterious in your life right now.

Jesus’ journey begins on a borrowed colt. Roman soldiers’ commandeered animals for their use, all the time (Keener and Walton). The promise to return the colt makes Jesus’ request different, so, we know this story is different (Perkins). Animals that have never been ridden are often preferred as dedications to God (Keener and Walton). It also reminds Jesus’ disciples of Zechariah’s return to Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9) which draws on Jacob’s last words to his sons assuring them the scepter, the staff of office will never leave Judah (Gen 49:10) (Harrelson; Gaventa and Petersen, Zech.). Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is deeply steeped in Israel’s history, full of promise.

The people are perhaps aware of the stories. Even if they are not, they shout “Hosanna” they shout “Save us” (Gaventa and Petersen Mark) they shout “Savior” (Lose). Their shouts express their hopes, pleas, dreams, needs, and expectations. They are worn out by continual occupations. They want to be welcomed as friends in the promised land. They hope to improve day to day life. There hasn’t much hope for a long, long time. So, they turn to Jesus.

Their expectations are also steeped in history. Throwing their garments in front of Jesus is a reflection of religious festivals and the army commanders throwing their cloaks on the bare steps for Jehu as he had been anointed King over Ahab (2 Kings 9:13) (Keener and Walton; Harrelson; Perkins)

We are used to this being a triumphal entry. But not so much for Mark. He avoids this sense by keeping the celebration on the road and out of the city (Perkins). A reason that at this early point in the story there is an air of uncertainty (Epperly).

When Jesus gets to Jerusalem he goes directly to the Temple, takes a look, and then goes to a nearby town because it is late in the day. This is a curious decision given all the effort to get there and it adds to the air of uncertainty. The next thing we hear is that Jesus is at the Temple. Temple is huge covering more than a quarter of Jerusalem (Keener and Walton). It is also prominent in the life of Jews. It is where God lives; it is the only place where you can offer required sacrifices. It is intended to be a house of prayer for everyone (Keener and Walton; Perkins). Jesus’ “house of prayer” is a reference to Isaiah’s proclamation that the foreigner, the eunuch, all those who choose to keep Sabbath and God’s ways, all those who love the name of the Lord, who are God’s servants God will bring to God’s holy mountain, give them a place, a name. God will make them joyful in God’s house of prayer, accepting their offerings and sacrifices because God’s is a house of prayer for all people. (Isaiah 56:3-7) (Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson).

Unique to Mark is Jesus keeping anyone from carrying anything across the Temple grounds, probably meaning through the gentile court, which was open to anyone. Not much written about this verse. Still, it strongly suggests that Jesus has authority in/over the Temple (Perkins).

Our story ends with Jesus leaving the city at evening. The prior verse And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him (Mark 11:18). leaves the air of uncertainty even more uncertain.

As we heard, Jesus’ entry captures the hopes, pleas, dreams, needs, and expectations of a crowd of people who were worn out by occupation. What has worn you out? Where or to whom do we look to save us; to be our savior? Do we, like ancient Israel did, ask for a King “to fight our battles for us” (1 Samuel 8:20)?

Jesus and his disciples are not the only visitors in the Temple. It is Passover, Israel’s biggest festival. Jerusalem is crowded, they had to leave town to find lodgings. Would you leave home, journey across the county, the state, the country, the empire for a Holy Week or for an Easter pilgrimage (Perkins)? Jesus’ presence in the Temple assures you that you are welcome, there, or where ever you are, whoever you are, just as you are. It is an extension from Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the 1st Temple (2 Chron 6:32).

Bruce Epperly notes that Philippians invites us to look at our all our decision-making in terms of relationships rather than power (Epperly). Do you, do we seek salvation on our terms, or are we willing to be transformed by our relationship with God? Are we willing to acknowledge that Rome, or China, or Russia or whoever they are is not the threat to our lives? Are we ready to confess that we ~ are the threat to our lives (Lose)? Even as we seek safety from the many forms of harm others may do, or seek to do us, will we confront our own complicity in violence and injustice, so that our relationships with them may be healed? Will we accept the need for our own thoughts, known and unknown about other people, money, and social bounds to be transformed, so that we don’t give in to demonization and so that our relationships with the others may be healed (Epperly)?

Since the moment of our baptism, our confirmation we have been wandering through the wilderness. We call our journey many things. We seek all kinds of individual, social, physical, emotional, and spiritual forms of shalom to make us whole. We have just heard the story of one pilgrimage to a point of shalom. We have witnessed through holy writ the first step of the final commitment. Today begins Holy Week. Today you are invited to commit to entering the shadowed valley (Ps 23). The goal is freedom from the continual devilishly appealing whisper that You too can be like God. The uncertainty challenges our wisdom, our belief, our trust. Today the beginning of your pilgrimage is right here, right now.

 


References

Cox, Jason. Sacrifice, Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday (B). 25 3 2018. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 25 3 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 11:1-11. 25 3 2018.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lose, David. Palm/Passion B: Cries, Confusion, Compassion. 25 3 2018.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Ruge-Jones, Philip. Commentary on Mark 14:1-15:47. 25 3 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Walton, John. Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament. GrandRapids: Academie Books, 1978.

 

 

See and Hear

A Sermon for 5th Sunday in Lent; Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 5:5-10, Psalm 51:1-13 or Psalm 119:9-16, John 12:20-33

Good morning. It is good to see all the kids here this morning. I know all of you know how special each of you are. Here is a story that reminds me of that.

All moms are on high alert when they bring their newborn baby home. They see and hear everything that is within reach of their baby. When a mom saw her oldest child, J keep edging up to the baby’s room she watched. J welcomed her new brother. Mom hadn’t seen any signs of jealousy or anything like that, but still, new moms watch. J would go to her brother’s room and stand by the door if it was cracked she’d peak in, if not she’d listen. Then one day, when Mom was more relaxed and not keeping the hawk eye alert on, J quietly when in. Mom missed J, automatically looked down the hall and noticed the baby’s room’s door was half open. She quickly went to see what was up. She did not hear anything that alarmed her, so she paused at the door to listen. J was standing by the baby’s crib, one hand, and her forehead on the railing. Quietly she said, please tell me what she looks like, I am beginning to forget what God looks like.

It is interesting to ponder how as we grow up as we learn some things we also lose our ability to see and hear other things; it raises a question about how we grow up (Kubicek).

 In the Gospel this morning we hear that some Greeks ask to see Jesus. It is an indication of their desire to know him. Certainly, through the stories they have heard, they have come to know about Jesus, which has led to them to seek to see Jesus so they may come to know him more fully (Shore). Their request makes no demands, there are no appeals for proof, they just want to be in Jesus’ presence, just as Andrew wanted to follow Jesus after John the Baptist’s witness (John 1:35). People do desire to see and hear Jesus. However, as we grow up, either birthday by birthday, or by education, or through life’s hard taught lessons, that desire seems to be more and more suppressed. We seem to lose the ability to see Jesus, or God, or the Spirit right in front of us. Notice the officials cannot see who Jesus is, and the crowd cannot hear God’s reply to Jesus’ prayer “Glorify your name.” People think it is either thunder or that Jesus has lost his mind and is talking to himself (Kubicek). And while there is a lot of Sunday School material teaching stories about Jesus, the opportunities to learn how to see Jesus, how to hear Jesus, are rare. One commentator wrote that seminaries don’t teach it, creeds don’t mention it, the catechism doesn’t teach it, yet here it is (Kubicek).

I can attest to the truth, that seeing or hearing God/Jesus/Spirit can be a life-changing experience. Thirty or so years ago, I was home alone with our daughters. N was upstairs asleep. H and I were playing Candy Land. It was important to me that she wins, so I was trying to manufacture a win, by making mistakes. I should have known better, H was very smart, and never did miss much, and every time I tried to make a mistake, she saw me and corrected it. Because it was Saturday the TV was on PBS, the kid’s shows were over and an interview with Joseph Campbell was on. I do not know the question. I only know part of the answer

 … there are many paths in life. When you are on the right on you know it. When you are on the wrong on, you know it. And if you ever sell out for money …

My house of cards collapsed, and I heard “Go get ordained.”

A bit of background. As an acolyte serving at the altar was always a special place and time for me, there was a kind of mystical magnetic draw to it. Somewhere in my last year or so in college, in a moment of existential, or identity crisis I sought out a priest. So, it is not a total surprise to hear those words, although it was completely unexpected.

After decades of occasionally pondering I am beginning to see that the only way I would hear the divine voice was to be so focused that all the concerns of the world were blocked out. It was only playing as a child, with a child, that the walls I had built, to protect myself from the world, faded away, and that God’s voice could be heard. As I sought to obey that call, I shared the experience, ~ but with caution. I did not want to over-interpret it. And ~ I was not sure how it would be received. Which tells us something about how such experiences are interpreted in many situations.

Our Lenten sermon themes are lentil soup, and what we sell our Christian birthright for. This morning lentil soup is looking a lot like grown-up expectations and interpretations of the world. We have forgotten how to be little children. Though Esau called it “that red stuff” this morning lentil soup is gray stuff, a mixture of everyday life and light. It is a good thing to have grown up expectations and interpretations of the world. Everyday life in the world is complex and at times dangerous, it takes grownup experience and wisdom to make your way through. At the same time, Jesus’ teaching that to enter the kingdom of heaven we must be like little children (Matthew 18:3, Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17) we have heard is true. It builds on my seminary class Psalm, ~ 131

  1 O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.
3 O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time on and forevermore. (Psalms 131).

The psalmist shares the way to live in divine hope, which is our soul’s being calm and quiet like a child with its mother.

The ever-alert understanding it takes to get through the day contrast sharply with the calm and quiet of a child with their mother. Lentil soup is an artful mixture of both.

John is challenging the balance of the two. In his day, and in ours, there is a much greater emphasis on ever alert understanding than calm and quiet. Go to the self-help section where ever books are sold and see how many books offer ways to negotiate or manage your life to be successful, compared to how many offer ways to calm and quiet your soul. John does this in sharing the relationship between God and Jesus. John writes that Jesus’ soul is troubled, which is an expression of a grown-up understanding of the situation he is in, he now knows his death is rapidly approaching. Unlike Matthew, Mark, and Luke, here, Jesus does not question his purpose.

He is so perfectly united to the Father that, in [John’s] Gospel, he does not struggle to obey the divine will; instead he prays for the Father’s glorification … [he knows] looming tragedy is not the last word (Gaventa and Petersen).

John’s lentil soup is more divine light than human awareness. This morning’s vision of lentil soup is as much about the blend of what is in it, as it is about its ingredients.

We have also been asking what we sell our birthright for. This morning it is an abundant wheat crop. Jesus shares the one-line parable about a wheat seed dying so that it will bear much fruit, which we tend to equate with abundance. Have you ever asked yourself “Does wheat seed produce fruit?” Of course not. So, what is Jesus, through John, saying? Throughout scripture, Jesus uses the phrase “bearing fruit” to describe how a community of his disciples should look and sound. In Jesus’ one-line parable “bearing fruit” is a metaphor meaning to lose one’s life, by leaving ever alert understanding of our self-interest aside, to become part of a community of faith (Shore; O’Day). To hate, or reject, or rebalance one’s life is to follow Jesus as a part of the community of disciples who witness to Jesus after his death, resurrection, and ascension (O’Day). This morning we see the temptation to sell our birthright, of an abundance of fruit in a community of faith, for an abundant wheat crop.

Adjusting the ingredients of a recipe is a challenging thing. It requires knowledge of the ingredients, how they interact, and which flavors complement each other. It is also an art that emerges from a calm and quiet soul. You are not alone in your effort to balance your recipe for lentil soup. You are heirs of Jesus’ invitation to Andrew to “come and see” (John:138) and to Phillip to “follow me” (John 1:43) (Lewis; O’Day). You are heirs of seeing and hearing to know the “swift and varied changes of the world” and the calm and quiet of your soul which together bring you into eternal life in which you know, right here, right now, what God looks like, what God sounds like.


References

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 18 3 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kubicek, Kirk Alan. “This Voice Has Come for Your Sake, Not for Mine, Lent 5.” 18 3 2018. Sermons that Work.

Lewis, Karoline. Seeing Jesus. 18 3 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Shore, Mary Hinkle. Commentary on John 12:20-33. 18 3 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

 

 

 

 

Decisions

A sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent; Numbers 21: 4-9, Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21

It must be spring, our clocks sprang forward in the middle night, depriving us of an hour of sleep. It must be spring, snakes are all over the place. My first memory of a snake story is not wrestling with the identity of the snake in the Garden of Eden, nor the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones opens the secret chamber and on seeing the strangely rolling floor rolls over and says Snakes, why does it always have to be snakes. No, my first memory of snakes is the story of my mother and mother of our across the street neighbor going out to lunch. It must have been a special place because they wore long tight skirts with high heels. When they got back, they saw a snake in our front yard as they drove in. They didn’t know what kind it was but decided it was just too big, and besides, all the kids would be getting off the school bus before too long. So, she asks our neighbor to bring her an ax and she will cut its head off. Our neighbor brings her ~ a hatchet. Determined, and against all laws of motion and balance my mom is successful. They go home. Sure enough, not 15 minutes later all the school bus kids are romping down the street headed home. One of the boys, picks up the headless snake by the tail, begins swinging it around loudly asking Who killed the copperhead? If the snakes are not in our yards, they are all over this morning’s bible stories.

From Numbers, we read how the Israelites yet again grumbled about how hard the trip to freedom is, the miserable food and lack of water. God sends snakes, who bit many people, who die. The people go to Moses acknowledge their sin in complaining and ask him to intercede. He does. God tells him to make a bronze serpent, put it on a pole, and anyone who looks at it will be healed and live. He does, they do.

The Gospel story begins with Jesus saying: Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. It is interesting to know that in Bible days snakes or serpents were a symbol of both death and danger and fertility, life, and healing. (Harrelson). The story gets more complex when we learn the word for poisonous also means fiery, and also, saraph, or Seraphim, majestic beings who attend and protect God (Thomas Nelson Inc; Gaventa and Petersen). It gets evening more interesting when we are told God’s instructions to Moses are similar to homeopathic medicine that treats diseases with small doses of what in larger doses would be dangerous or fatal, and apotropaic medicine which is intended to ward off evil and bad luck (Keener and Walton). All that sounds a bit like a vaccine. All of it is interesting, but there is more to these bible stories.

In addition to all the serpent images, there are emotional images. Most of us recognize John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. even if we don’t know it is a bible verse. It is a feel-good line (Cruz). We can go a long time on the happy energy that comes from knowing how much God loves us. And then ~then we remember that “he gave” refers to Jesus’ crucifixion and that stirs up all kinds of questions. Yes, we know God loves us, but giving up his only son to die, who would do that? That reminds us of the story from Numbers and God sending snakes to punish them, and that many died when they were bitten. Did God, would God really send snakes to bite people who would die. Even though there is a lot that makes us feel good in the Gospel story it is very clear that if we don’t believe in Jesus we are already condemned (John 3:18). Does God, will God condemn us because we don’t believe, or we struggle to believe in Jesus? Did God, would God, will God really do that?

Both stories have snake images and emotional images in common. There is a third thing they have in common, decisions and consequences. Psalm 107 verse 17 reads Some were fools and took to rebellious ways; * they were afflicted because of their sins. It reminds us, that the story from Numbers is not the only one where Israel rebels against God. There is the entire book of Judges and its cycles of Israel’s bad decisions, then their crying out for help when they are in trouble, and God sending a hero, called a Judge, to save them. That is in verse 19 of the psalm. The bad decisions continue through all the books of history. In them, God sends prophets to help get Israel back on the right track. We have their stories in the Bible. Their language is often full of warnings of doom. All these stories, the story from Numbers, and the story from John’s Gospel account tell us about the consequences of bad decisions. And all of them also tell us about the promise of redemption. Psalm 107 verse 20 reads He sent forth his word and healed them * and saved them from the grave. That is what happens with the bronze serpent, we know is really a saraph a heavenly agent who brings life and healing. This is what happens when we remember that for John Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection – that thing he did on Easter, and Ascension – going back to God, is all one thing, and it is all about healing us, so we can have eternal life, which is not sometime in the future, but is right here, right now because we know we already live in God’s presence (Harrelson; O’Day). So, what we can now see, is that both the story from Numbers and from John are about healing (Lose; Hoezee; Gaventa and Petersen). But, this still does not answer the question about the consequences of bad decisions.

Here is the paradoxical, the strange, thing about the consequences. In Numbers, it is the image of a snake that gives life to those dying from a snake bite. In John it is Jesus dying, coming back to life, and returning to heaven, that gives life to those who don’t believe in Jesus the Son of God, who loves you more than you can imagine. It is what takes life that God uses to restore life. I’ll bet you, that when you make a bad decision, God will find a way to use that decision to bring you back to life in God’s presence. It is not a very good example, but it is kind of like a vaccine, a tiny little bit of something bad, can help keep you safe from a whole lot of something bad.

During Lent, we have been exploring how Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup and what lentil soup looks like in the bible readings, and in our lives. This week I see how lentil soup is choosing what is false. It came to my mind Friday morning when I read an article about how a false story is reposted much faster and more often than a true story on social media. Researchers have learned that it is our choice and the not results of some automated effort to mislead people (Lohr). Recognizing the truth isn’t hard because we are misled. Recognizing the truth is hard because it is not what we learn from much of the world around us. We want to use John 3:16 to comfort people facing a crisis or in distress, but we do not want to do anything, even just stay with them (Helmer). This is the dark side of the prosperity gospel. Some preachers teach that if you just pray right, you will be right with God and all will be well, including your checking account. What this also means, but is left unsaid, is that if you or a loved one is sick, or poor or subject to any kind of oppression or abuse, you have somehow sinned and not right with God. Making the right decisions is hard,

  • because we are afraid,
  • because we have a secret that has to stay a secret,
  • because we are ashamed.

Making the right decisions is hard,

  • it can mean that what something is worth is not ultimately guided by how much something costs, or how much you can make,
  • it can mean saying the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, as powerful as it is, is not the final guardian of life, (who by the way is God) even if police can take guns away from certain dangerous people, or some teachers have guns in schools,
  • because the Tempter from Eden’s garden whispers in our ears so that we won’t see each other, see everyone, as the image of God we are, so that we won’t value every human life.

Making the right decisions is hard because there is no neutral position, God/Jesus demand we choose and then act on our choice (Cruz).

 But, making the right decision is possible, because, as John says, the light (Jesus) is in the world, and it will not be overcome (John 3:19, 1:5). Making the right decision is possible because we do not have to wait for Jesus to return because we are already living in Jesus/God/Spirit’s presence. Making the right decision is possible because God loves you so much, God sent Jesus to show us how, and sent the Holy Spirit to gently, continually, remind us. Making the right decision is possible because God is more patient than we are stubborn. Learning to, and practicing, making right decisions is a great replacement for lentil soup; it might just be a good Lenten discipline.

Amen


References

Cruz, Samuel. Commentary on John 3:14-21. 11 3 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 11 3 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Helmer, Ben. “Snakes, Lent 4 (B).” 11 3 2018. Sermons that Work.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 3:14-21. 11 3 2018.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. After Effects. 11 3 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lohr, Steve. “It’s True: False News Spreads Faster and Wider. And Humans Are to Blame.” 8 3 2018. nytimes.com. <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/08/technology/twitter-fake-news-research.html&gt;.

Lose, David. Lent 4 B: 3 Overlooked Elements of John 3:16. 11 3 2018.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Living Church. Sin and Salvation. 11 3 2018. <livingchurch.org>.

Thomas Nelson Inc. NKJV Strong’s. Nashville: Olive Tree, 1982.

 

 

 

Walk on By

A Sermon for Lent 3; Exodus 20:1-1, Psalm 1, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22

 A few years back in a busy Washington D.C. Metro station, a man played his fiddle for the passersby. Some children stopped and stared but were quickly hustled off by their parents. A few people stayed for a minute or two before rushing on to catch their train. A few people threw money into the open violin case. The violinist collected a total of $32.17. The fiddler was Joshua Bell, one of the most celebrated violinists. Just weeks earlier he played to a packed house, where tickets sold for $100. Bell was playing one of the most difficult and intricate pieces ever composed for the violin. He played it with world-class skill, and on a world class Stradivarius violin worth million. The whole stunt had been set up to see if anyone would notice. No one truly did, except perhaps a few children who sensed something was up (Hoezee).

This morning Jesus is at the Temple during the Passover festival. There is a money exchange. The local regions where pilgrims came from each had its own currency. Temple tax could only be paid in the temple currency (Harrelson) in part because Greek and Roman coins had the image of a human on one side which made the coins an idol (O’Day). The exchange swapped the pilgrims’ money into the local currency (Keener and Walton). The cattle, sheep, and doves were required for burnt offerings in the Temple were designated in Leviticus. Many of the pilgrims coming to offer sacrifice in the Temple journeyed a great distance and would not have been able to bring the specified animals. They needed to buy animals in Jerusalem. The animal market was needed so they could (O’Day). Both the exchange and marketplace are necessary. Both are provided for in Deuteronomy and Leviticus (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). But something is not right. Why else ~ would Jesus disrupt the whole thing?

It is entirely reasonable that the Temple priests and others would want to know what authority Jesus has to disrupt the Passover Festival. It is a reasonable question after all Passover is the defining Jewish Festival. His answer Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up (John 2:19). isn’t really an answer to their question. So of course, everyone misinterprets him. Ask a question about a temple and get an answer with ‘temple’ in it, and the second is the same as the first. Unless of course, you have been to political spokesman school, or you are the Messiah.

John wants to be sure the readers understand, so he tells them, tells us, that Jesus is talking about himself. No one knows about Jesus life to come. There are no great reveals in John’s Gospel story. The story of Jesus’ betrayal, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension is revealed in his actions.

Part of understanding what is going on at the Temple is to understand how God has been present to us, specifically Israel, up to this point. Here is a Cliff Note, well a Fr Scott Note version. The Garden is where God met us. However, we listened to the Tempter, in the form of a snake, and messed that all up. After the Exodus in the wilderness journey God met us on mountain tops; well ~ at least he met our representative, Moses, there; we were afraid to meet God in person. After the wilderness journey is over God meets Israel through the wisdom and saving actions of the Judges. But the number of Judges stories and the repeating cycle of those stories tell us that that didn’t go so well either. At Israel’s request, God establishes a King to “fight our battles for us.” That doesn’t help the divine-human relationship; now Israel is now relying on the strength of Kings and not trusting the strength of God. God has the smartest man in the world, Solomon, build a Temple to be God’s home on earth (it is far grander than Herod’s). Before long Solomon is married to wives from Egypt, the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonian, and Hittites. They turn his heart away from God and towards the gods of his many wives (1 Kings 11:4.) The Temple has become the home of all sorts of gods. Throughout the many intra and inter kingdom wars God calls prophets to speak the truth and restore the divine-human relationship. We have the stories of 23 or so prophets in the bible who do speak the hard truth. However, there we a whole lot more, hundreds more, in the royal court who tell the king what the king wants to hear. So much for the divine-human relationship.

We have seen that the animal market and money exchange served a purpose. Because of Jesus’ actions, we can discern that once again, the place and how God is present on earth has turned into something else. But there is still more else going on here. The previous story in John is about that wedding in Cana that Jesus saves by turning 180 gallons of water into extraordinary wine. This reveals something of his identity, and the abundance of God’s love (Harrelson; O’Day). So, if Cana is about the revelation of God in Jesus, what does this story reveal about who he is?

The temple is the meeting place between Israel and God. It is a holy place. It is the place where human life and divine blessing meet. It is a thin place. It seems that it is following in the steps of its predecessors. The Temple can no longer be God’s presence on earth. If not the Temple in Jerusalem, then where? John tells us Jesus’ answer to the authorities is not about the Temple, but about him. What we are witnessing through holy story is Jesus is proclaiming that his body is the home of God on earth (Shore; Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner; Harrelson; O’Day; Gaventa and Petersen).

Continuing with our model of Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup, what might lentil soup look like in this story? Jesus challenges the Temple, which like it religious predecessors, is so convinced of the divinity of its rules and practices that it is no longer open to a new revelation from God (Harrelson). It is no longer a thin place. From a church institution perspective, we are called to actively be aware of the trap of equating the authority of our own structures and traditions with the presence of God that we close ourselves off to the possibility of reformation, change, and renewal (O’Day).

The personal perspective it unwinds like this. Many of us have known a thin place, like Camp Mitchell, or church retreat weekend, where we deeply feel God’s mysterious presence. Jesus invites us into a personal relationship. Jesus is the presence of God on earth, therefore, Jesus is a thin place. So, Jesus is inviting us into a thin personal relationship. When we encounter this invitation do we explain away its presence? do we explain away its impact? do we explain away God who knows us and insist we know God? do we explain away I AM in our I AM God? Or ~~ do we risk experiencing the fullness of the presence of God/Jesus/Spirit? (Lewis). Do we risk experiencing Jesus as our thin relationship?

We have been asking “What do we sell our Christian birthright for?” We can miss out on our birthright not only by selling it but by ignoring it, walking on by. Who knows how many people walked on by, rushed on by Joshua Bell? Who knows how often we walk, rush on by a thin relationship with God/Jesus/Spirit? Perhaps we are not being called to give up, or to take on, but to slow down so that we can see, so that we can hear the abundance of divine gifts that are simply all around us all the time. Perhaps we are being called to slow down so we can experience and live in the thin relationship between ourselves and the abundance of divine love.

Amen


References

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 4 3 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 2:13-22. 4 3 2018.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 4 3 2018.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. Body Zeal. 4 3 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Shore, Mary Hinkle. Commentary on John 2:13-22. 4 3 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

Whitley, Katerina. “Resisting the Idolatry of the Age, Lent 3 (B).” 4 3 2018. Sermons that Work.

Woodrum, -Br. Jim. “Depending on God.” Meeting Jesus in the Gospel. SSJE. Cambridge, n.d. Email.